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Date of Award

4-1995

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Supervisor

Dr. J.P. Campbell

Abstract

This dissertation is an institutional study of the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War. It analyzes the operations of five infantry divisions, fighting on several different fronts, to reach conclusions about the wartime performance of the multinational Habsburg Army. The dissertation focusses on both tactical and socioetlmil; aspects of battlefield effectiveness. It is therefore a novel approach, combining operational and social history.

The first chapter is an overview of the Austro-Hungarian Anny in 1914, on the eve of the war. It deals with overall army organization, the nationalities issue, war plans and strategy, weaponry, and tactical doctrine to reach conclusions about the preparedness of the Habsburg Army for total war.

The second chapter deals with the battlefield performance of the Bohemian 21st Landwehr Infantry Division in 1914. This largely Czech formation fought in failed campaign against Serbia from August to December. It suffered the first Austro-Hungarian defeat of the war, participating in three major offensives in five months.

The third chapter focusses on the 1915 campaigns of the Magyar-Romanian 17th Infantry Division, recruited in South-Central Hungary. The division fought against the Russians on the Hungarian frontier in the Carpathians during the winter and spring. It defended the Carpathian passes and participated in the Gorlice-Tarnów breakthrough. In May 1915 the division moved to the opening Italian front, where it successfully resisted the first Italian offensives in Carinthia and on the Isonzo.

The fourth chapter details the 1916 fighting record of the West Galician 12th Infantry Division. This largely Polish formation, like so many Austro-Hungarian divisions, enjoyed a tranquil first half of 1916, but was defeated by the Russians during the June Brusilov offensive and the battles which continued all summer in East Galicia and Volhynia.

The fifth chapter analyzes the performance of the 55th Infantry Division during the 1917 Caporetto offensive. The 55th, a Bosnian-German mountain division, defeated several Italian formations in October and November, and played a decisive role in Austria-Hungary's victory in the offensive, the most successful Habsburg effort of the war.

The sixth and final chapter deals with the North Bohemian 29th Infantry Division on the Italian front during 1918. This German-Czech formation participated in the failed June offensive on the Piave, the last Austro-Hungarian offensive of the war. It resisted the Italian "victory offensive" in late October, and managed to escape Italian captivity, retreating home in good order.

This dissertation contradicts the prevailing historical perception that the wartime Austro-Hungarian Army was crippled by the nationalities issue. Instead, this revisionist work suggests that purely military shortcomings--principally poor high level leadership and a lack of industrial capacity--were the main causes of Habsburg defeat, and that the army actually perrormed respectably throughout the First World War despite its inherent weaknesses.

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